“I didn’t expect to be a chauffeur to a graveyard, driving men to their death day after day!”
An American fighter pilot (Fredric March) refuses to fly with a reconnaissance photographer (Cary Grant) who he believes is overly eager to shoot down the enemy.
This hard-hitting World War I-era film immediately evokes memories of Howard Hawks’ Dawn Patrol (1930) in its depiction of fighter pilots attempting to stay sane in an environment filled with daily death. Cary Grant, Carole Lombard, and Jack Oakie are present in small but impactful roles, but it’s March’s powerful leading performance which grounds the film. The brutal storyline is primarily concerned with the tensions between killing because it’s one’s duty during war, and killing as a morally reprehensible act. Grant’s “observer” is cocky in his assurance that shooting the enemy, even if he’s parachuting down to the ground, is simply what one does: “This is a war. I’m hired to kill the enemy, and there ain’t no book of rules about that. Every one I put away means one less to kill me. That’s my job and I’m doing it.” March, on the other hand, attempts to maintain a sense of honor in the midst of his responsibilities — a stance which quickly erodes him. The final scenes are brutally heart-breaking.
Note: Other Peary-listed titles by director Stuart Walker include Werewolf of London (1935) and Mystery of Edwin Drood (1935).
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Fredric March as Jerry Young
- Atmospheric cinematography
Yes, for March’s devastating performance.